Wag tha Dogg

Times Staff Writers

A year ago, the big Hollywood hip-hop story was that Snoop Dogg, a one-time murder suspect, had successfully recast himself as a sly but safe mainstream brand-name: As a movie star, an in-demand corporate pitchman and even as a celebrity coach for local youth football, the old gangsta scowl was gone and Snoop seemed almost, well, cuddly.

This just in: Snoop still has hard edges.

The 34-year-old rapper has three felony arrests since Labor Day, all related to alleged drug and weapon violations, which means his upcoming months will be tied up at best with court hearings and at worst with jail time. Neither of those prospects is alluring to Hollywood producers who had come to view Snoop as a favored icon of urban street culture with his roles in "Racing Stripes," the "Starsky & Hutch" remake, "Soul Plane" and "Old School."

Handcuffs and gavels don't scare off rap music fans, of course -- just the opposite. Snoop and his new CD, "Tha Blue Carpet Treatment," which entered the national sales chart this week at No. 5, will only gain street cred with the Wednesday morning footage of a dour Snoop leaving the Burbank jail dressed in USC cardinal and gold. In fact, these days it seems difficult for a rapper to climb the charts without a police escort. Snoop is one of four hip-hop acts in the Top 10 this week: There's the Game (arrested Nov. 16 for allegedly impersonating a law enforcement officer), rap-scene singer Akon (who did time for armed robbery and named his new CD "Konvicted") and the late Tupac Shakur (who was convicted of multiple felonies before his murder 10 years ago).

But unlike those others, Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Broadus) has also tried to win over Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The lanky Long Beach native played up the humor that has laced some of his biggest hits as well as his own laconic charisma and red-eyed reputation (he's long been viewed as rap's pot-puffing equivalent of Cheech & Chong) to become not just a comedy actor but also a pitchman for T-Mobile, Orbit chewing gum and XM Satellite Radio. For Nokia, he was the halftime act at the Sugar Bowl, and for a Chrysler television ad he and Lee Iacocca mugged together during a round of golf.

The pop-culture ubiquity has made Snoop a known name and face well beyond hip-hop and put his name on a dizzying array of products that include foot-long hot dogs, malt liquor, skateboards, toys, pet accessories, clothes and a Swiss confection called Chronic Candy that is advertised as tasting like marijuana. He's on the cover of the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine pictured in a crooked Santa cap. The headline calls him "America's Most Lovable Pimp."

It's a big role for Snoop, but is it a comfortable one? "I think he said, ' ... it! I'm Snoop, I've been a good boy for too long. If people don't like it, if the cops don't like it, ... 'em,' " said Jerry Heller, a music industry firebrand known for co-founding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E and for launching rap group N.W.A. Heller has known Snoop since the late 1980s. "It renews his credibility. And with a younger demographic, that's everything."

Much of Snoop's cross-media successes have been during his work with the Firm, the management and entertainment venture company that has a client list topped by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kelly Clarkson and Cameron Diaz. The Firm began representing Snoop three years ago.

Not only did the Firm guide Snoop to new millions from endorsements and Hollywood work, it was on its watch that Snoop became hailed for his urban youth football program. The Snoop Youth Football League has more than 2,000 players in 10 local communities. The Firm also works with Ice Cube -- the former N.W.A rapper who now collects his biggest paychecks as a filmmaker and star who came straight outta Compton into the PG-rated world of "Are We There Yet?"

Calls on Thursday to Snoop's manager, Constance Schwartz, were referred to his publicist, Meredith O'Sullivan, who declined to comment. Others close to Snoop, though, say the arrests have been a mixture of the rapper being in some unfortunate settings and situations. They also say that, as with other rappers, his art has amplified media coverage.

Be that as it may, Snoop is clearly in the middle of a bad run of luck, judgment or both. On Oct. 26, police at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank arrested Snoop for alleged possession of a firearm and marijuana. This week he was arrested in Burbank on suspicion of more weapon and drug violations, including cocaine possession. In September, he was arrested at John Wayne Airport in Orange County for possession of a baton weapon. Earlier in the year, the British Home Office put the rapper on the "do not allow entry" list after the rapper and his entourage were involved in "violent disorder" at London's Heathrow Airport.

It may add up to a rapper with a curious habit of airport misbehavior, but others see the recent turbulence as a sign that Snoop is struggling to reconcile his past with his present. This is the same man, after all, who was brought to trial for murder (and acquitted) in the 1990s.Watching from a distance, Heller said he believes that the rapper was chafing in his kinder-gentler entertainment persona and that he probably wasn't happy to see it compromise his hard-core reputation.

"I think he was definitely worried," Heller said Thursday. "I was expecting to see him on 'Hollywood Squares.' His management team at the Firm, it seemed like they accepted every offer that came along for Snoop. He has done things that definitely eroded his image.... He's in his mid-30s, and to continue selling records at that age, you have to expand your demographic to new record buyers."

Snoop's recent music has certainly clicked with the pop marketplace -- his "Drop It Like It's Hot" single with Pharrell Williams and "Signs" with Justin Timberlake were hits in the last year, and his new duet with Akon, "Boss Life," is one of the top hits of the moment.

The title of Snoop's new album is a veiled reference to the color allegiance of the Crips street gangs; the track "Gangbangin' 101" is anything but discreet. The album, his eighth, marks a return to formal gangsta sound after recent hits.

"His music has always reflected that lifestyle, but now he's going back to making street music rather than music for clubs," said DJ Skee, who was in the studio with Snoop for a mix-tape project that spun off from a session for "Tha Blue Carpet."

But Skee said that the Snoop of today had his head in a very different place than the glowering, Crip-claiming rapper of the 1990s who dropped threats in between the beats.

"It's all peace with him ... he's off the drama and beef stuff," Skee said, pointing out that Snoop brought rival rap factions together into the side project; Skee is from the Game's camp but worked alongside DJ Whoo from 50 Cent's tight circle. "That shows how much he's matured and that he's trying to bring peace."

Skee said that makes it all the more wrenching to watch the television footage this week of a dour Snoop walking out of the Burbank jail. Skee, like many in hip-hop circles, said that police expend a disproportionate amount of their time and resources investigating and harassing rich rap stars.

"I've heard the police are out after hip-hop right now and they have a vendetta for Snoop," the DJ and producer said.

"Snoop's not a bad dude. Snoop is Snoop, one of the most laid-back people. His persona is what he is. A cool cat."




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